Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NEW BLOG: Portraits of the Ordinary

Hi, Readers!

I've started a new blog that launched on June 22, 2011: Portraits of the Ordinary

While this site will remain up, I encourage you to join me at Portraits of the Ordinary, which will be the primary location for future blog posts.

Thank you for reading!

Cindy (aka, Tara)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I Can't Top THAT

Last night over dinner with a coworker and a fellow conference attendee, we were having a discussion about tattoos, when it came to light (like it always does) that I "do roller derby". After a discussion of injuries and rules my dinner dates both commented, "Well, I can't top THAT," to which I replied, "Yeah, neither can I - I wish I was still skating."

Despite all the other drivers in derby, no one can deny the ever looming presence of ego - not only how ego plays into a derby persona, but how the ego of being a rollergirl plays into your non-derby life. For people outside derby, a rollergirl epitomizes coolness, toughness, and utterly complete independence. While I'm not quite sure how these same people view women who were once rollergirls (eg, retired skaters), I know that at an intuitive level I feel less cool, less tough, and less independent when I'm not actively skating as part of a team. I felt this way when I was out for the rest of a season with an injury, and I feel this way now as a retired skater.

In a way, derby is like an ultra super mega fun merry-go-round. Before you're ever on it, you can see that it looks like fun, and you want to jump on. While you're on it, it IS really fun. And when you inevitably have to get off the derby merry-go-round, you once again are on the outside looking in, only this time you know just how fun it is and you're really sad you're not on it. The reality is that derby is so popular right now that there's an ever-revolving door of new and different skaters, and there's this fear when you're injured or retired that you'll be forgotten by your team, by the derby community, and by derby fans at large, and these things in part or in whole can cause a person to lose a significant portion of self esteem that was at least partially gained while she was actively involved in derby. In short, it blows.

I've never experienced this type of separation anxiety in my life before. From a young age I was always anxious to move on to the next better thing. I moved out of my parents house when I was 18, and I never looked back. I was working full time before I finished college, and I never once longed to be a full-time student again. I've played a wide array of sports over the course of my life, but I've never once been so attached to one that I've allowed myself to be at least partially defined by it. Then there was derby. But, why?
I'm not confident that I know the answer to this, but I find it interesting that the global outsider's view of what a rollergirl is meshes with what I know to be true, and all this combined seems to put a spotlight on the fact that those labels and assumptions can no longer truly be applied to me. I'm Madonna in the 90s, or worse yet, the Baha Men. Who? Right. I reached a peak in my life that was me actively skating and now what? I don't know how to return to normal life. STILL. Will I ever do or find some other role to play in my life in which I'll be able to recreate or exceed the success I found in my participation in derby? I really hope so, because even though I feel like I'm really busy racing back and forth daily to do or find something that will give me the same high derby did, I'm not finding it. I've made myself really busy, but even within the chaos I've created, I'm tragically bored. At the end of the day, like my dinner dates, I can't "top THAT." And I want to.

For me, I feel better by staying involved with those who do still skate, and while I can no longer strap on my skates and block for my jammer, I can participate at the admin level and hopefully use my bank of institutional knowledge to propel our teams, our league, and our sport forward - a metaphorical whip from the sidelines. Still, I often feel like a shadow of who I once was. While I'd love to be physically able to skate again, I know doing so would only postpone my having to deal with these feelings later, and return to skating or not, I'd like to figure out how to happily move forward and at least "top THAT" in my own mind.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Pole Dancer I am Not... Yet

I wouldn’t say I’m an adrenaline junkie in the typical sense. I don’t jump off cliffs without a parachute, and I always wear my seatbelt, but I’m definitely attracted to trying new things that force me out of my comfort zone. I think that when we place ourselves in these positions we learn the most about ourselves, and those things we learn can help us to grow. Last night I placed myself out of my comfort zone, with nothing to cling to but a stripper pole.

Last weekend after having been asked by several different friends to join each of them for a different after-work exercise outing, I decided that for a month I wouldn’t turn down any exercise invite – I would just go – because, after all, doing something (regardless of what that something is) is better than sitting on my ass doing nothing, which I’ve been doing entirely too much of lately. On Monday I had a date to run several miles at the Lake, and last night was my debut attempting a pole-dancing class at Xpose fitness in Arundel Mills, where I was definitely pushed out of my comfort zone.

Let me start with this: I am not a dancer. Yes, I am known to tear up the dance floor at roller derby after parties, Pants Off Dance Off nights, the Lith Hall, and the occasional gay bar, but I’ve also had some liquid courage and according to my recollection there are typically no mirrors around me. I actually really like to go out dancing, but when I’m there my goal is to have fun with my ladies. I’m not moving for anyone else but me, and I could give a shit what I look like when I do it. I feel the music and I move. While pole dancing may eventually be about feeling the music, it’s certainly not in the beginner class! It’s all about the moves, which are quite frankly extremely difficult to mimic.

I was pleased to find a very diverse mix of ladies attending this class, and I was even more pleased that the instructor didn’t live up to my idea of what a pole-dancing instructor may be like. Instead, she was funny and the opposite of what you think of when you think of most fitness instructors, who in my mind at least, are all peppy petite blondes with tiny voices. No, last night’s pole-dancing instructor reminded me of a rollergirl, which instantly put my mind at ease. Until she started moving.

I almost feel like I needed a pre-beginner class to teach me how to move my hips, legs, and ass in all those various swaying figure-eight motions I always just assumed I knew how to do, because in reality – in front of a mirror – I really can’t move the way I thought I could! But I tried, I kept moving, and I found that I really enjoyed and excelled in the more athletic moves like spins into back bends (you got to pick up those dollas somehow). Then we moved to the floor – hello, abs! The back bend transitioned into placing your shoulders on the floor, lowering your hips down, raising your chest up, and doing a bunch of shit with your legs in the air, constantly moving. This all resulted in walking on your ass half way around the pole and then strategically getting back up, all the time staying in the correct proximity to the pole. Wow. Just, wow.

I joked last night that I’m build for efficiency, not for the viewing pleasure of others. In all seriousness, I’m used to using my body to accomplish a task, whether that be running, performing offensive or defensive derby moves, or just doing some action repeatedly. I’ve always been able to get the job done, but I’ve never said it was going to look pretty. I’ll sweat, I’ll hustle, and I’ll push my body to accomplish seemingly difficult tasks, but what I am REALLY not used to is moving my body in a way that’s visually appealing. It’s difficult. Very difficult. So, hats off to strippers everywhere.

When I left last night my first thought was, “No way in hell I’m coming back.” Seeing myself fail miserably in a mirror was a big blow to my self esteem, but by the time I went to bed last night I realized that there’s no way in hell I couldn’t go back. Putting myself in an awkward position once did make me learn something about myself, but going back and working on improving the aesthetics of my body movements – something I’m not naturally good at – will build character. Since being retired from derby, I don’t challenge myself enough by trying to overcome something I’m really bad at, and I need that. I need to be knocked down a few pegs on a regular basis so that I have something to work on.

The verdict: I’ll be back on the pole next week, and in the meanwhile I’ll be practicing a lot of ungraceful body movements in the full-length mirror at night!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Just a Job

As I get older I find myself asking my friends’ children some of the same questions that adults asked me when I was a child, especially “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I think my earliest answer to that question was veterinarian. That morphed into space shuttle pilot for NASA, which then became engineer (I had no clue what that was, but my mom thought it paid well), architect, writer, and English teacher. When I ask kids these days, I get answers like “I want to help animals” or an emphatic “skateboarder!” Maybe it’s a product of having been a child in the 80s, but I never had lofty aspirations – they were always really practical. When I hear the excitement or loving compassion that’s behind the answers I hear today, I start to lecture. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams,” I say, “You can do anything you want, and you can always find a way to make it work. Don’t settle.” Ten year olds don’t get settling, which is refreshing.

In college I settled on editor. Now, 15 years later I have a job. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like my company, I love my boss, and I enjoy the work that I do, but if I wasn’t being paid to do it, then I wouldn’t do it. This constantly causes a barrage of mind fucks. First and foremost I can easily slip into caring too much – so much that it’s detrimental to my health. It may not be my life’s work, but I spend 40+ hours a week focused on this one thing, and when shit goes wrong or gets held up, I can take it personally. Today I had a very sad discussion with a coworker who came to see me to confess that while the challenges in her department fall under her preview, her hands are tied. Above all else she was concerned what I thought about her professionally. It was heartbreaking, yet it’s something I see over and over again: the responsibility some of us assume is not proportional to what’s expected of us. Put simply, we care too much, and in many cases  those of us who strive to move forward and conduct business as if we actually had a personal stake in it get burned when we hit a wall and are unable to do what we know needs to be done. Forget the asinine reasons why we hit those walls – focusing on them will only give you early heart disease – instead, relax and find comfort in the fact that this shit happens all the time in every industry. Unless you own the business, you shouldn’t ever take it personally and you shouldn’t care so much that you do take it personally. Naturally, this is easier said than done.

While I appreciate the free market capitalistic society in which I live in that allows me the opportunity to live the American Dream (make shitloads of money and move to an island owned by another country), I feel like I’m neither well poised to take advantage of what it has to offer, nor do I know what the hell I would actually want to do if given the choice. So instead, I do what everyone else does, and I get a job that pays me to live my life on the weekend. I’m reminded of this each time I find myself caring too much about my job, and it makes me feel like I need to scramble to find something more meaningful and more personally fulfilling. That, or trick myself into believing that what I’m currently doing actually is fulfilling. I really don’t want to continue to do this for the rest of my life, and I can’t tell if that makes me a whiny spoiled brat or someone with a higher purpose.

Going back to that question asked of every American child, I don’t know what I could have been told that would have changed the direction I took. Part of me thinks it was unavoidable. I guess the bigger question is what now? 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

I write, but I can’t finish anything. Everything seems complicated. Unresolved. Unhappy. Too many secrets. And no one wants a buzz kill. More time has passed than seems necessary to recover, yet recovery is not even imminent. What now?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The 2011 To Do List: New Year Resolutions

I love writing lists, and since this obsession began during my childhood the New Year Resolution list has been a favorite of mine until recent years. Don’t get me wrong, I still love list making, but these days making a list containing such ambitious content is enough to make me light-headed and queasy. At some point several years ago the New Year Resolutions list, which really is supposed to be a list of goals or things to aspire to accomplish in the new year, became one more “to do” list that I saw as an inevitable list of failures. As a Project Manager I deal with to do lists in a daily basis. I LIVE by to do lists, and I can have as many as five going at any one time. The problem, however, is that which makes me a good Project Manager (the ability to bring all tasks to fruition on or ahead of time) makes me a neurotic and miserable human being.

When we’re young we’re taught that life and its components are linear – there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end to just about everything. We’re also taught to finish what we started. This type of conditioning has really fucked with my head as an adult, because I become extremely disappointed in myself when I can’t finish something I’ve started or when I don’t have closure to something. It’s just now, at age 32, that I’m beginning to suspect that life and its components are NOT linear, and most things do not ever get resolved, which is a pretty big pill to swallow for a person like me with a Type A, perfectionist personality. It’s only in light of this new revelation that I’ve decided to once again revisit the New Year Resolution list, but this time it’s being taken with a huge grain of salt (that can be contained in those large buildings managed by the department of transportation in areas of colder climate).  So, without further adieu:

Get new website up and running.
I’ve got two blogs out there and I constantly have ideas for additional topics I’d like to write about, but I need a formal location in which to organize the chaos, hence: new website. When I got married last year two friends offered to build the site for me as a wedding present – one would write the code behind the components I wanted and the other would create the actual design. As much as I hate creating extra work for people, this is the year I need to get this done, and I suspect once it’s finished I’ll feel a lot less scattered and chaotic – at least as a writer/blogger/whateverer.

Begin to write fun book.
Hey, look! Another writing goal! Last year I silently lamented over a completely nonsensical personal need to get more “professional” writing out there before I could do anything “fun”. Then several months ago I had an epiphany: this is my god damn hobby, I might as well do the fun shit first (or, hell, how bout JUST the fun shit?!). I have a topic in mind that I’ve had for a while. It’s even come together quite organically and coincidentally over the last year, so my first official move in accomplishing this goal will be in the form of scheduling some formal interviews with people to whom I’ve already talked. I’m actually really excited about this goal, because the process itself of writing the book should actually be a lot of fun. Stay tuned, and god so help me if I’m truly known for this topic after it’s all said and done!

Do fun things with food.
I love to eat, but perhaps even more than I love to eat I love to cook. I’ve had the daydreams of owning a restaurant, but I know how difficult a business that is run and make profitable, and when it comes down to it I really just want to cook, so I have another goal this year to do fun things with food. Fun things with food? What does that mean? I’m not quite sure yet, but I read an article last year in Bust magazine about underground dinner parties with strangers and I’ve been intrigued ever since. It works like this: you finalize a menu, calculate a price per person, somehow put out a call for dinner guests, and then everyone shows up to eat that day and you cook them dinner. I need to figure out if there’s already a scene like this around Baltimore, and if there is I need to figure out how to become a part of it. Tips on this one are appreciated…

Figure out this piriformis muscle bullshit.
I almost didn’t include this on here, because it’s kind of along the lines of “keep breathing”, which is a given. It’s a tough medical nut to crack. It becomes inflamed and tight because it’s not a strong muscle, so to prevent that you have to strengthen it. Yet, when it’s inflamed, I’ve been told I have to do nothing (just gentle stretching). Then, inevitably, I reinjure it doing just about anything on my first try back at some sort of cardio or strengthening program (even cardio that is ultra-low impact and doesn’t even make me sweat), and I’m back at resting and gentle stretching. I’m beyond frustrated that this has semi-permanently sidelined me from skating, but I’m also not doing everything I can to make the process go any faster. I need to get my ass up an extra hour early to do my PT stretches and exercises, and then I need to dedicate another hour each night to doing the same thing, and I need to just suck up the fact that I can’t do cardio right now and have needed to purchase larger pants because of it. Oh fucking well. At this point, I don’t see any other way around it.

Learn to knit.
I almost didn’t include this one either, because I actually solidified plans this morning to be taught to knit in two weeks. I suppose, instead, my goal should be to learn and continue to practice knitting on the regular. I’m hoping I can learn to make some cool shit, but more importantly I’m hoping that having something to do with my hands while watching TV will keep me from feeding my face full of junk. Then maybe I can ditch the larger pants!

Finish kitchen.
I’m financially irresponsible. There, I said it. Money burns a hole in my pocket, and my struggle to save has precluded us from finishing our kitchen for the last seven years. This year, however, I want things to be different. I want to be able to save some money each month that will go toward finishing moving our kitchen out of a room the size of a closet and into a room the size of an actual kitchen. We started this fall and have already redone the walls, floor, and ceiling. Next step is to hire a plumber to move the water and gas lines, then shorten the existing window, then purchase and build cabinets, and finally, purchase and install new appliances. This is a project that will evolve over time, and I’m fine with that – as long as it keeps evolving and doesn’t sit stagnant. My goal, really, is to save money to finish the kitchen and keep things moving. I can do this!

And now for the conceptual part of the show… These next few goals are things that I know, due to their very essence, cannot be checked off a list, because they can’t ever truly be accomplished. Instead, they are things that I should continue to strive for each day as life plays out, expectedly and unexpectedly.

Go with, and not against, the flow.
I have a tendency to be really passionate and work really hard to accomplish my goals, so much in fact that in my drive to reach the end goal I often become blind to changing circumstances and annoyed with any proposed change of plans. This is especially true at work. I’m no stranger to shit happening, but I would like to learn to tolerate it happening better than I have in the past. When I sit back and really examine the things in life that upset me, they’re all little nit-picky self-imposed bullshit things that boil down to “I’m upset that X didn’t happen exactly the way I wanted it to”. Indeed, I spend way too much time trying to shove square pegs into round holes instead just going to find the round pegs. I want to relax more and not stress out over the dumb shit. I want to learn to go with the flow more than I currently do, because I highly suspect I’ll save myself a lot of grief and be a happier person in general.

Seek discipline to find balance.
Wow, this seems like a contradiction to the previous resolution, but really it’s not. On a daily basis, discipline in certain activities provides the structure you need to achieve comfort. Going to bed on time, not drinking like a louse during the week, and showing restraint in eating whatever the fuck you want when you want will certainly make me less neurotic and upset at the consequences of my lack of discipline: perpetually being late to work, feeling like a lazy bum who never does anything, and having to buy new pants.

I realized the other day that one reason I loved actively skating so much was because of the level of discipline it introduced into my life that I otherwise don’t have. Yeah I hated having to make X number of practices a month and not drinking on a Saturday night so I’d be good for All Stars practice on Sunday morning, but these things made me a better person who, despite the mild discomfort associated with having to show discipline at certain times, was generally happier than I am when I can do whatever the fuck I want to do (or not do) at any given time. This is a resolution I’m going to have to remind myself about a bunch, I bet .I’m kind of embarrassed that I’m 32 and just now learning this, but better late then never, eh?

9.      Talk it out.
I talk a lot. On here, on Twitter, on Facebook, and to friends, family, neighbors, and cashiers everywhere, but I struggle to talk to anyone in depth about my problems. In my efforts to not be a buzz kill, I hold all these toxic problems inside and then I get sick or I just shut down emotionally because they haven’t been dealt with. I want to learn to talk my problems out instead of holding them in. It works swimmingly when I remember to do it, but I don’t remember to actually do it so much. Hopefully listing it here will help it stay in the forefront of my mind.

Look for opportune opportunity, and don’t be afraid to turn down inopportune opportunity.
I’m the type of person who’s generally willing to give anything a go, meaning I take on things that both enrich my life and suck the life out of it. Moving forward, I need to assess opportunities that are presented to me better, and just because I’m asked to do something doesn’t mean I should say yes to everything. I should, however, say yes to truly opportune opportunities, and I shouldn’t be afraid to sever ties with opportunities I took that have turned out to be inopportune. Time is of the essence in life, and while I shouldn’t beat myself up for those things that I thought were opportune but were not, I should just move forward with the best of intentions.

Do something each day that makes me happy.
I’m quite predictable, really. It’s funny looking back on it, but it’s never funny when it happens. Naturally, I’m talking about that all too common occurrence that is me throwing a hissy fit before bed that I hadn’t done a single thing that I wanted to do that day. It makes me angry to go an entire day without doing something that makes me happy, yet it does absolutely no good to throw a tantrum in a seeming attempt to get time to stop and give me a “bonus” hour not otherwise included in the standard 24-hour day. What I want to do is MAKE TIME for myself each day before bedtime arrives. Again, not easy, but if it were it probably wouldn’t be on here.

Well, that’s my list. I probably could have come up with more resolutions, but I think this list is manageable, if not a bit ambitious. While I’m partially inclined to print this out and keep it someplace easily accessible in order to hold myself accountable, another part of me wants to do with it what I did with all those other childhood lists: set it down and forever forget about it. I think I’ll take the middle ground here. Getting it down on paper was good, but printing it out may be a bit too anti-number seven ;)  

What resolutions do you have for the coming year? I’d love to hear them!